24 Mar National Park Week 2015: 10 Parks by 10 Unusual Ways
Each spring, the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation sponsor National Park Week, this year designated as April 18–26, 2015. To kick off the celebration, Saturday, April 18, and Sunday, April 19, are fee-free entrance days.
While that’s a great incentive for encouraging you to get out and explore one of your parks on that particular weekend, in truth only 127 of the country’s 407 national park units usually charge an entrance fee. National parks remain a bargain for adventure.
While I’m a big fan of our national parks and love to write about them, they sometimes exasperate and frustrate me. Funds to keep them maintained are being slashed, and they are often held hostage for political agendas. Many times, they are treated as if they are preeminently places for resource extraction. They face threats from vandalism and climate change. Some national parks have even disappeared altogether.
Fortunately, however, new National Park Service sites are still being added to the system. These special places are truly democratic in nature: they come in all sizes and physical shapes, from the tiny, 0.02-acre Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Pennsylvania to the 13.2-million-acre Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska. They encompass not only national parks but battlefields, historical parks, historic sites, lakeshores, military parks, monuments, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails, seashores and the White House.
Make it a point to visit one of your favorite national park sites in 2015. With more than 84 million acres in every state, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, at least one of them should be within your range. Choose America’s most visited national park, the Great Smoky Mountains, which had 10,099,276 visitors last year; or select the most remote and one of the least frequented: Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve on the Alaskan Peninsula, which tallied only 134 visitors in 2014.
If you’d like to embark on a truly extraordinary national park adventure, see the 10 Adventure Collection options below. If your preferred means of travel is by:
1) Backcountry vehicle: Consider Arches National Park in Utah. Through this wondrous landscape of more than 2,000 natural stone arches, hundreds of soaring pinnacles and scores of balanced rocks, you can ride down hidden trails and travel deep into the park’s interior, all via an air-conditioned, four-by-four SUV. See the Arches National Park ½-Day Guided Interpretive Backcountry Vehicle Tour offered by O.A.R.S.
2) Bike: Visiting the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska is a true experience of wild nature. The park’s 13.2 million acres stretch from Mount St. Elias—one of the tallest peaks in North America—to the ocean. About 14,185 square miles of Wrangell-St. Elias have been designated as wilderness, which is more than in any other unit within the National Park Service system. Pedal in the shadow of this environment’s rugged, 16,000-foot peaks on an Alaska Bike Tour by Backroads.
3) Cruise: Located on Alaska’s Inside Passage, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is 3.3 million acres of wildly varying landscapes, from dynamic glaciers to temperate rainforests and from pounding coastlines to sheltered fjords. On Lindblad Expeditions’ tour titled Exploring Alaska’s Coastal Wilderness, watch calving glaciers thunder and crash into the sea, mountain goats scale mountain peaks and grizzlies lumber up hillsides.
4) Dory: Through its immensity alone, Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona is overwhelming. But add in the power and beauty of a trip on the Colorado River’s whitewater—from foaming ripples to the notorious churning of Lava Falls—and you’re well on your way to pure awe. Check out the Grand Canyon Dory Trips by O.A.R.S.
5) Hiking: Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park may both be in Utah, but they couldn’t be more different from each other. Tall, narrow hoodoos and forests grace Bryce, while Zion’s fat, massive, sandstone slabs create slot canyons that enfold you. On Off the Beaten Path’s tour called Zion and Beyond, you’ll hike trails that twist through slickrock canyons and and sun-dappled streams.
6) Kayak: Established in 1872 as America’s first national park, Yellowstone in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming is the core of one of the last, nearly intact, natural ecosystems in the Earth’s temperate zone. The park is home to grizzly bears, herds of bison and elk, and, of course, its famous wolves. Take a flat-water kayaking trip across Yellowstone Lake on Backroads’ Yellowstone and Tetons Family Multisport Tour, while watching for bald eagles and white pelicans.
7) Mountaineering: Less than three hours from Seattle, in North Cascades National Park in Washington, about 300 glaciers—more than at any other location in the Lower 48—crown the jagged peaks of the North Cascades mountain range. Many of the world’s top mountaineers use this area as their training ground, and you can, too, on the North Cascades Mountaineering course offered by NOLS.
8) Multisport: A violent volcanic past created the deep blue, crystalline lake that’s surrounded by two-thousand-foot cliffs in Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. Bike, hike and raft this unique geology on the Crater Lake Family Multisport Tour from Backroads.
9) Raft: John Wesley Powell’s 1869 expedition made the wild waters of the Colorado River in the area of what is now Canyonlands National Park famous. Explore the same scenery from the deck of your O.A.R.S. paddle raft on the Colorado River Rafting in Cataract Canyon trip.
10) Small ship: Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska is an active volcanic landscape. It protects the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, 9,000 years of human history, and important habitat for salmon and the thousands of brown bears that feed on them. By small ship, you can follow the bears along the shoreline as they fish and dig for clams on Natural Habitat Adventures’ tour named Alaska’s Coastal Grizzlies: Kodiak to Katmai. While ashore, you’ll gain an even closer vantage point on the bears.
I hope you’ll plan a visit to at least one National Park Service site this year. I believe they are our best places.
Here’s to your adventures, in whatever corner of the world you find them,
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